T+L reveals what’s cooking at the top restaurants in New York, from a classic steakhouse to a hip West Village gastropub.
Hard as it may be for homesick Catalonians or proud Basques to admit it, the best Spanish restaurant in town is run by a guy from Vermont named Seamus. With weathered brick archways, a well-utilized brick oven in the back, and a tight bar up front with great rounds of golden tortilla and short glasses of cider on tap, the space feels like it’s been here forever—and fans of Seamus Mullen’s exuberant interpretations of Spanish classics (head-on langustinos, arroz a la plancha with Iberico ham and snails) hope it will be.
Image Courtesy of Tertulia
It’s like a fairy tale of unlikely culinary discovery: the graffiti-festooned cinder-block garage in hardscrabble Bushwick that houses a pizza oven, an organic garden tended by bearded hobo gourmands, a radio station somewhere on the premises, and a once-in-a-while tasting menu that’s among New York’s most inventive. Best of all: it’s a true story. Get on the L train and get in line for great pizzas and other rustic fare from the wood oven, or call ahead to reserve a spot for Carlo Mirarchi’s multicourse adventure.
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The wood is pretty, the lighting just right, but what’s truly striking about the room here is what’s missing. Nothing flashy, zero funky culinary riffs or visual clutter to distract you from the delicate details of the freshest raw or gently cured fish on rice, which is precisely the point of sushi. In a city that eagerly embraces each successive wave of Japanese imports (ramen! izakaya! robata!), Sushi Yasuda remains the ideal long-running, low-key place to celebrate sushi as it’s meant to be eaten.
Image Credit: Darcy Strobel
Danny Meyer—the suave, smiling mastermind behind Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, and other enduring New York classics—turned a concession for a hot dog and hamburger stand in Madison Square Park into an unexpected chain of burger joints (expanding recently to Dubai). Along the way he converted an unsuspecting dining public into worshipful Shake Shack fanatics willing to put up with long lines for quality burgers on grilled pillowy-soft potato buns, frozen custard, and cheese fries. Get in line and taste what the fuss is about.
Image Credit: Darcy Strobel
English chef April Bloomfield conjures the spirit of a rumpled, lively London gastropub in this cramped, cozy, altogether charming mess of a space in the far West Village. There’s cask ale on draft, little plates of devils on horseback, and chicken liver toasts at the bar—or settle in for a full meal of pig’s ear salad, a richly satisfying sheep’s milk ricotta gnudi with brown butter, and a burger with a loyal following.
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A Montreal-style Jewish delicatessen in the hometown of Katz’s and Second Avenue Deli? Oui, bubbala! Skip the imported bagels and focus on the main event: smoked meat (cured and smoked brisket) piled high in sandwiches or nestled among the cheese curds in a plate of poutine. Smoked-meat heads, take note: Brooklyn-based Mile End has recently expanded its empire across the river with a new sandwich shop in Manhattan’s Noho neighborhood (53 Bond St.).
Image Courtesy of Mile End
In Ye Olde Days there was New York–style pizza. It was available by the floppy, foldable, roof-of-your-mouth-scalding slice on every corner from the Bronx to the Bowery, a fixture of city life as common as yellow taxis. Then came the Great Neapolitan Pizza Invasion of the 2000s, and the city was overrun with credentialed pizzaioli and their billion-degree wood ovens and single-serving, puffy-crusted, wet-at-the-center Margherita pies. The craze shows no sign of slowing, and while there are plenty of worthy competitors (Forcella, Motorino), this West Village stalwart is our pick for your crash course in the authentic Naples style.
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The pictures on the wall—framed caricatures and fading portraits of the playwrights, pugilists, and boulevardiers who made this 1930s saloon their headquarters—recall a bohemian, freewheeling Greenwich Village long past. Happily, Keith McNally of Balthazar and Pastis fame preserves the memory of place while making the food—a tightly edited menu of well-aged steaks and muscular French fare—better than it ever was.
Image Credit: Sylvia Paret
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
Chef-impresario Dave Chang now counts high-end Momofuku Ko, Noodle Bar, Milk Bar, and Má Pêche among his expanding mini-empire. But it’s Ssäm Bar that best exemplifies Chang’s deliciousness-without-borders style of menu eclecticism: kimchi salad with apples, bacon, and maple labneh; artisanal Kentucky hams and spicy tripe; a whole pork butt to be shared with friends. All to be devoured in a narrow, hard-edged (all bar seats and benches), and chaotically packed space you’d never forgive if your meal wasn’t unerringly so damned good.
Image Courtesy of Momofuku
This is the classic, the unrefined original from which all steakhouses descend. It’s best to think of a dinner here as participation in a timeless urban experience, from the unforgiving lighting, the unadorned tomato and onion salad, salty slabs of grilled bacon, and saltier service, to the delivery of the gigantic sizzling porterhouse and coffee with schlag (whipped cream) at the end. At 125 years old, Luger has its off days, sure, but then who doesn’t?
Here is T+L's curated list of New York's top 30 restaurants, where a memorable meal is guaranteed, whether you're a veteran of the ever-evolving dining scene (and it's always a scene) or a first-time visitor. You'll find New York to be a more interesting, varied, and exciting dining destination than it was even a few years ago.
In a city with crushing rents and constant competition, it's heartening to see these smaller, edgier, more personal restaurants get the big play they deserve. One consequence of this enriched dining environment is that you should be ready to take the subway or hail a taxi to Brooklyn. The borough next-door has gone from culinary afterthought, restaurant-wise, to a necessary stop on any adventurous eater's itinerary.
This is New York, one of the greatest eating cities of the world by any standard. Count yourself lucky indeed.
Check out the slideshow above for some of the best restaurant spots in New York City.